Evolve in London 2012: Part 1 – Innovate This!
A gaming conference is very different from a gaming convention. For one thing, wearing a Chun-Li outfit is not the done thing. So it was in my most cunning disguise, as a responsible young reporter, that I attended Evolve in London 2012 to see what game developers get up to behind closed doors…
There are two main themes which could be drawn from this year’s Evolve: emerging markets and finance. While finance lead to some of the deepest thinking of the day, let’s take a look at those emerging markets, specifically the innovations used to develop these markets. At first the two markets considered will look rather dissimilar. On one hand is virtual reality (VR) gaming; on the other, gaming for young children. If you want even more dissimilarity, take a look at where some of the innovation used to develop these markets comes from: militaries and Sesame Street. (Hopefully you were able to match the market with the source.)
The VR presentation came from Palmer Luckey of Oculus VR, the team behind a successful Kickstarter project and E3 2012 award winner Oculus Rift, which will provide a nice segue between the two conference themes. The kit brought along is best described as a hefty pair of high tech goggles. With fancy lenses, accelerometers, and even a bit of cushioning for comfort, it was possible to spend a couple of minutes running around a space ship trying not to get killed by some nasty aliens.
While some complaints will always plague VR gaming, especially person-specific issues such as motion sickness, the biggest obstacle to the world accepting VR gaming won’t be the fact the graphics displayed are currently at low-end Xbox 360 territory. Neither will it be the fact goggles will need to highly tweakable for comfortable use – to generalize, male faces are broader than female faces, something which can lead to one of those fancy lenses pressing into the eye. Those with long eyelashes, like the attendee trying out the goggles before me, might finding blinking more difficult if the lenses are too close. Those won’t be the biggest obstacles to the acceptance of VR gaming. The problem will be getting people to actually move their heads. Correcting views using thumb-sticks, an instinctive action learned through years of play, kind of defeats the big draw of a real 3D environment.
The second market dealt with was gaming for children, which was approached by two different presentations. In “The Kids are Alright (for apps)”, Stuart Dredge of the pretty awesome Apps Playground demonstrated a variety of apps designed specifically for this audience. While some were a case of “One man’s innovation is another man’s gimmick”, it did stress that children are a raw market that has no problems with novelty. Unlike adults, children aren’t tied to franchises and “safe” investments. Admit it, one of the biggest complaints about new installments is when it tries something a bit different. But young children couldn’t care less who the main character of your game is, whether it’s Mario and his year history or a funny-looking armadillo with an overly serious hat who was thought up while typing out this sentence. Is your game fun?
An interesting extra question was: is your game something they can take with them? While there are the “gimmicky” tie-ins such as the yet-to-be-proved-it-isn’t-from-Skynet robotic cat that interacts with an associated app, several examples fall under the augmented reality (AR) genre. AR hasn’t grabbed adult audiences the same way it has children, who can be perfectly happy with an app which makes it look like a purple dragon in their kitchen and little else.
Putting children into the game was the driving force behind “Interactive Linear TV is part of our future” from Rob Stevens of Microsoft Soho Productions. Through the magic of Sesame Street, we learned about the letter H and the challenges of working with an audience of children. For example, how long do you give the kid to respond before letting the show continue? Too little and he won’t be able to respond; too long and he might wander off. And how do keep the positive encouragement coming even if he fails to respond?
Getting adults to keep trying in the face of failure is much simpler: promise them money. Actually getting their hands on it will have to wait until Evolve in London 2012: Part 2 – Show Me the Money!